The New York Jets entered Week 1 bruised and left it squarely battered. Sunday’s 19-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers only added insult to their various injuries. Still, we learned a lot about what this team is going to look like against real-life NFL starters, and frankly, better competition. The following observations help paint a picture of what to expect in Week 2.
There is not much that can be said about Zach Wilson’s debut without the proper nuance behind it, so a deeper dive will tell that story later in the week. That doesn’t mean a broadcast copy of the game is without substance, though. Wilson looked much like his college self, thriving out of structure and ultimately looking comfortable amongst the chaos.
There’s plenty of reason to be excited about the kid. The arm and the instincts both flashed repeatedly all afternoon. Despite the numerous drops and abysmal offensive line play, Wilson kept the offense alive. This culminated in a beautifully orchestrated final drive in which he delivered Denzel Mims’ only reception and Corey Davis’ second touchdown of the day.
Fourteen points dampens the outlook on the day, but Wilson looked pretty good. He navigated tight windows throughout the day, particularly over the middle of the field. The BYU product was on the move all day, but the quality of his throws did not suffer. His effortless arm strength kept him viable off-platform and opened up possibilities for the offense when things went south.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In tune with our expectations coming into the season, Wilson is very much a work-in-progress while in structure. Nothing illustrates this more than his lone interception, where he disregarded the hook defender (Shaq Thompson) and paid for it.
Wilson’s prowess out of structure will keep New York competitive, but there’s only so much that can be put on his plate. Given the state of the offensive line, Week 2’s test against New England remains a monumental test.
The Running Backs
New York’s deployment of their running backs went about as expected. Ty Johnson saw 54% of the snaps, followed by Tevin Coleman at 26%, and rookie Michael Carter at 25%. Interestingly enough, their touches followed a different pattern. Coleman led the pack with nine rushes for 24 yards, while Johnson and Carter both rushed four times and caught a pass.
One thing that jumped out was the roles that each of them seem to have within the offense. Coleman has easily had the most experience of anyone in the backfield with Mike LaFleur’s wide zone principles, having operated under LaFleur (and Kyle Shanahan) in San Francisco and Atlanta. He was unquestionably the most comfortable of the bunch, so it was not a surprise to see him rack up touches on the ground.
At the same time, Johnson offers the most big-play potential. His 9.75 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) tops the group, beholden to a 4.4 40-yard dash and excellent burst scores. This threat will continue to keep Johnson on the field.
Michael Carter had the worst day of the bunch. Like the other aforementioned backs, Carter struggled to break tackles and was mostly ineffective on the ground. The rookie also had a drive-ending drop on the team’s opening possession. Look for the Jets to continue giving him touches in space, where he can make an impact without the technical refinement of Coleman.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
As a whole, this group of targets woefully underperformed and cost the offense several chances. However, it would be unfair to lump newly-acquired Corey Davis in with the rest. He wasn’t perfect, but Davis was New York’s best offensive player on Sunday. Targeted seven times, Davis caught five passes for 97 yards and two scores. If he stays healthy, he’ll easily surpass 100 targets and, presumably, 1,000 yards.
Elijah Moore was the biggest disappointment of the wide receivers on Sunday. He failed to adjust to a well-thrown deep ball early in the game, and his only catch amongst four targets went for negative yardage. Seeing 56 snaps in Jamison Crowder’s absence is encouraging, though, as it means he has the route running and acumen necessary for the role.
The same may not be able to be said for Mims. His 40-yard catch was nice to see, but it is clear he resides at the bottom of the depth chart. Saleh referred to his inability to play all three receiver positions necessary to see time in LaFleur’s offense. Mims’ stock remains in the cellar after what many viewed as a chance to break out.
Braxton Berrios was fairly impressive, too. He’ll earn his living as a special teamer, but appeared in the slot frequently on Sunday. Catching five passes for 51 yards, Berrios stepped up well and should be a fixture as a depth receiver. All in all, the Jets will be glad to have Crowder and Keelan Cole back for Week 2.
New York’s wide receiving corps didn’t play well but showed some semblance of life. Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin were not able to share that sentiment. I can’t say they underwhelmed, given their expectations, but 11 targets for 48 yards is far from a strong outing. The tight end position is a premium spot in this offense—the front office’s priorities should have reflected that this offseason.
The Offensive Line
It didn’t take long for virtually everyone watching to call out New York’s front five on their porous performance. Robert Saleh spread the blame around the entire offense, but it was clear the unit underperformed. Of course, Mekhi Becton’s departure (and future absence) does not bode well for Wilson.
Becton was the best linemen on the field before his injury, and even he had a handful of miscues. Alijah Vera-Tucker had a typical “welcome to the league” game, not complete without embarrassing reverse pancakes. Connor McGovern struggled to quarterback the line, as the entire unit failed to communicate on stunts all afternoon. McGovern spoke to the simplicity of Carolina’s pressures, painting a scary future for an offense that plays the Patriots, Broncos, Eagles, Saints, and Buccaneers this year.
Continuing to the right, Greg Van Roten underperformed in a similar fashion to his compatriots. He and Vera-Tucker struggled to erase Carolina’s interior defensive linemen. George Fant had a surprisingly bad outing, given the encouraging play he showcased in 2020. While he was not helped out by his matchup or formation, Fant got flat out beaten by Brian Burns on more than one occasion. When Fant filled in for Becton, Morgan Moses was tasked with taking over at right tackle. Needless to say, Wilson continued to get hit.
Thankfully, Wilson has shown the twitchiness and out-of-structure prowess to keep himself alive. Still, it’s hard not to watch what went down on Sunday and think things are going to get better soon. With time, and hopefully health, they should begin to gel, but it will be a long road to get to adequacy. New England looming doesn’t make the situation any better.
The Defensive Linemen and Edge Rushers
If there was one spot the Jets were set at coming into the year, it was the defensive line. Quinnen Williams is a star, Folorunso Fatukasi is one of the better nose tackles in football, and Sheldon Rankins adds even more talent to the group. While Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers’ run game fared well, this is likely the least of New York’s confirmed.
On Sunday, Fatukasi set the bar for the unit. He held his own and was one of the better defenders on the field. Rankins and Williams both underperformed, though nothing stood out as a red flag with either of them. Expect them to step up to the task against the Patriots’ imposing offensive line.
Hybrid interior defensive lineman/edge rusher John Franklin-Myers also had himself a day. He sacked his former teammate Sam Darnold, the only time New York hit paydirt on Sunday. Franklin-Myers will have to step up if they expect to have a relevant pass rush, and if he continues to collapse pockets as he did, the entire defense should benefit.
Bryce Huff failed to sack Darnold, but I liked what I saw from him as well. He was used in a variety of roles, including zone coverage, and he handled himself well despite his inexperience. A player that’s development is important for the depth of the defense, Huff’s improving ability to capitalize on his athleticism is a refreshing sight.
C.J. Mosley has emerged as a leader in the locker room, but his return to the gridiron had yet to answer some very pressing questions. Mosley had his ups and downs, but for the first game since an injury-riddled 2019, it wasn’t too shabby. He looked faster than initially expected. Where he fell short was in man coverage against McCaffrey, but then again, who doesn’t.
The bad news came in the form of rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen. He made some exciting plays in the preseason but looked out of place. He was pretty consistently a step behind the play, likely the result of lackluster processing. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but he played like a rookie. That’ll probably be a theme for the defense this year.
Coming into Sunday, the Jets’ biggest fear should have been their castaway torching them for 400 and three touchdowns. With a starting crop of cornerbacks consisting of two day-three rookies and Bryce Hall, no one could be blamed for starting to sweat.
In a fortunate turn of events, New York’s corners exceeded expectations. Michael Carter II handed himself very well, especially carrying receivers vertically from the slot. He broke up an otherwise well-placed throw from Darnold and looks to have a strong grasp on the starting slot cornerback job. Javelin Guidry still saw some snaps, and looked good in run support, but struggled in coverage.
Bryce Hall embraced his new CB1 role. Like Michael Nania described, Hall racked up 37 coverage snaps and only allowed a single catch, for nine yards. Simply put, he played like the Hall that garnered prolific grades leading into his senior season.
Brandin Echols looked like the worst of the three starters, and that should not come as a huge surprise. Jet coaches mentioned a committee approach to the cornerback position, and after a lackluster Sunday, Echols may lose some snaps to Isaiah Dunn and Jason Pinnock.
Losing Lamarcus Joyner means New York is now even thinner at the safety spot. Ashtyn Davis’ return in the near future will mitigate the damage, but they’ll be forced to bring in new bodies before the end of the week.
As for player performance, Marcus Maye looked good, but he played better in the box than he did in coverage. His versatile deployment could play into the Jets’ plans for when Davis is healthy. Adrian Colbert saw significant snaps, too, though he failed to stand out in any direction.
New York’s worst safety from Week 1 was quite easily Sheldrick Redwine. His costly misplay granted Robby Anderson an opportunity to mock the Jets in his touchdown celebration. More importantly, his miscues in coverage cost the Jets six points.
Another positive from Sunday came on special teams. Matt Ammendola was fine on kickoffs and filled in admirably for Mann at punter. His play was enough to beg the question of if New York even needed to add a punter, though they quieted that noise with the acquisition of Thomas Morstead. They tackled well and contain a rather explosive Caroline return team. After years of dysfunction, the Ammendola+Mann/Morstead pairing may stick for a little while.
Overall, Sunday was not successful. They left Carolina with a losing record and far fewer healthy players than they arrived with. The offensive line was tragically bad, multiple skill position players disappeared, and the offense only mustered 14 points. They were exposed by the league’s best back and lost the battle with the Panthers’ offensive line.
Still, there is reason to be hopeful. Jets fans watched a barrage that would’ve made their former signal-caller see ghosts take their quarterback to the ground repeatedly. Yet, he continued to get back up, and he continued to deliver. Wilson is going to keep this team in more games than they deserve. It’s been a while since New Yorkers could say that about a quarterback in the green and white.